Ulster American Folkpark

With the hard/ soft border controversy being such a big issue at the forefront of Irish politics, I think blogging about a daytrip in this historical park is timely.

I live in the Irish Midlands – south of the border, as they say. I have grown up watching the troubles on the news as one of the Irish who didn’t experience it first hand. I am a history teacher and have some knowledge on the history of our border. I have been ‘over it’ countless times (the border that is) and despite the crossing in the eighties and the now, being a world of a difference, my experiences of the counties have always been the same. I have loved visiting those six counties. I am very, very aware however of the struggles Irish people had in Ulster however and can understand when they feel like we southerners can never fully understand.

My friends and I decided to travel up north for a few days without  a second thought. Our main drive was to visit the tourist attraction that is in the post title- The Ulster American Folk park.

I find that I am often painfully aware of the tragedies of Irish history when site seeing and the ironies that it brings. The Famine Memorial statue in Dublin is the most poignant tribute and it never fails to move me. the-famine-memorial-statues-in-dublin-docklands-ireland-drykhpAs a country girl, I only ever see it when in the Big Smoke. I am usually only in the capital for entertainment. Therefore I always think of the horrors of the Famine as I have just been wined and dined or about to see David Grey in The Convention Centre or watch Wicked at the Bord Gais. It is like Christmas time. My first memories of Christmas parties in pubs includes large groups of inebriated and happy folk, arms around each other, chanting the sad lyrics of Feed the World (Let them know it’s Christmas Time) as they sweat out the evening’s indulgences in beer, wine and the four course meal that proceeded it. In museums and parks such as this, I always look for the coffee shop and a potentially wonderful array of cake as only an Irish bakery can provide. This time however, I think of me eating chocolate cake and drinking Americanos as more than a bit rich as we are about to learn the stories of people whose have had extremely little to live on. We particularly feel for those on the ships and the dry biscuity goods they lived on- potentially weevil studded. I start feeling like Marie Antoinette- richly oblivious of my life’s good luck.

Therefore I will not blog about this park as just a review, I will refer to how child friendly it is or isn’t out of respect to my parenting blogger friends but will also focus on what I saw in the park and how I feel that stands now.

It is such a terrific idea. The Ulster people are honoring and remembering the folk from their province who emigrated over the years to America in a most innovative fashion, an outdoor museum. It brings us through the journey in a kinaesthetic way following the Mellon family who would become wealthy bankers in the US later on their lives. Firstly there is a centre of pictorial and textual information which brings you through 300 years of emigrants’ stories, looking at the Titanic time also. You then enter the park into an Ireland of old. Firstly rural life of the poor and contrastingly more affluent Irish is portrayed.

Thick with turf smoke, I couldn’t properly photograph the interior of a poverty stricken tenant cottage as my senses could barely stand the smoke impregnated air. It was also hard to see. I feel great sympathy for the lady in the corner who sits there as part of her job! One family of a large number would dwell in a one room home using curtains to divide sleeping space. We marvelled at how people made do in terribly tough circumstances. You pass the cottages on the outskirts and understand how poverty made people survive in cramped, smoky environs. I think of us in our large comfortable houses and cannot help but compare the times. Are we not fortunate? We see the home of a wealthier family, the Mellon family. Again, what is noticeable is the fog of the peat burning.

There is much more space. Whitewashed walls and bread making, potatoes to peel and boil are on show. We see the art of candle and bread making in process. From here, we walk through a local ‘town’, fully recreated and stunning in detail. There are people in full costume at each area, answering questions and teaching us about what we see.

We then walked in through the large doors to a mock shipyard itself and board the typical vessel that emigrants travelled upon.

We hear the stories of illness and tragedies, the hopes, solitudes and fears of the times. I think of when I moved to England for two years. I could travel home easily. I had comfort on those flights, yet the homesickness still ate me alive. I think of these people having to contain both physical and mental emotions and stay strong in the knowledge they may never return. When you leave the ship, you step out on ‘American soil’ : a port laid out as if it were years ago.

We see the pickled foods lined up in the general store and the array of canned goods that a newbie must marvel at. Lima beans? A far cry from home.

The journey continues with you walking the city streets in Pennsylvania and finally out to the homeland that was created by the emigrants lucky to do so. Many examples of homesteads are there to inspect and you really feel as if you are standing on the American soil of the past. The differences in sights and sounds were subtle yet very effective. We noticed more wood use over stone.

There were brighter rooms- lighter colours inside. There was more use of patchwork over wool in counterpanes. Of course, there was no peat. Instead, the scent of log fires replaced it.

We no longer see baskets of turf, but wood piles. My favourite -a large pumpkin patch- accompanied one dwelling. The methods of gatemaking and cabin building with interlocking logs were ingenius.

There are basements to cellars with outdoor entrances and water is carefully channelled to make a cooling room for milk etc. Exploring here is great fun and so different to what we usually see in Ireland. You can’t help but learn about it as you are immersed in it.

So as a historical empathiser, I didn’t have to work too hard. The tour was doing it for me as we were interactively part of this journey.

Would I bring kids? Absolutely. Smaller ones will enjoy the walks, the domestic pets and the occasional hiding robin.

There are toilet facilities all the way around. Older ones may have a chance to open their minds to the historical past and the challenges that existed in Ulster previous to The Troubles and the current political debates. They will see, as I did, the strength in humanity and will see celebrated the tapestry of emigrant life as people because everything from millionaires to swindlers in this new world.20170808_115253

It puts me in mind of the poetry of Eavan Boland and her constant theme of figures ‘outside history’. They may not be named in history books, but they are very much part of our make up. This poem, Outside History has a darkness that I don’t fully feel in this museum of hope, however the first two stanzas stay with me as I travel about the Ulster American Folk Park.

Eavan Boland.89f1813181abed6e52dfb3948f11d151.jpg

Here are two advertisements that I found intriguing  in the park. I will leave you with those.

Picture Credits:

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AND

My own attempts at photography😊

 

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Our Sligo Highlights

Scenic Sligo having been the chosen as the venue for our practice run stay in a hotel with the babies in preparation the big trip to Euro Disney, it was here that I finally felt that the elusive and widely alluded to parenting promise might be true: It might get easier.

This trip was fortunately a mile away (I should say kilometre but I never really got used to that system!) from previous years’ desperate attempts to be jolly on holiday.

My last post hinted in the honest and open in Sligo: Toddlers on Tour.  Highlights of this trip were promised- the shiny, retold tales with a nostalgic glint and just an extra rosy glow and less of the throw up and meltdowns. Who needs to know about those, eh?!

It was only last week folks so I can’t be overdoing it. The effervescent bubbles of happiness in life must actually have happened.

Like I said to the newbie Mams and Dads : Parents, something did get easier.

  1. The Clayton Sligo. 20170717_181658.jpgHotel. (Can I just clarify that I have not been told/ paid to / asked to mention the hotel of our choice. We paid fully for our trip,were given no incentives and the hotel were not aware that a notorious blogger was in their midst posing as a mildly manic Mammy of two praying for peaceful coffee whilst dubiously dressed for comfort and not fashion). I just think that staying in the right hotel makes a lot of difference and this choice was a highlight. The hotel has an imposing facade and beautiful stretches of green with an on site church and the best thing if all – a clearly delineated goal to make families feel welcome. From the moment we walked in and clocked the ice cream counter (it is part and parcel, not just for show), were given a superior family room (even though I had booked a regular) and had a few minutes chilling on outdoor sears with our cones, I was happy with this hotel. The icecream may have returned to see us again later in a moment worthy of horror films, but it is still a highlight. The icecream eating as a family that is, not the being sick. 

  2. Sligo People’s Market (Sunday Market in a Hangar. Hangover Cure in a Hangar maybe? Hangar for Hanging?)
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    Sligo People’s Market

    Sligo airport being a private one, small and isolated, and a bit of a surprise when you see it, is the location for a fantastic Sunday market that pulls out all the stops.

     

    Not content with a few stands of buns and cakes alongside a table of clay clad vegetables, Sligo offers its people a trendier, hipster market. Delighted with our find on a gloriously warm Sunday, we parked up and had a peek.

     

    Colourful and musical, the choices of pieces to peruse and splurge upon were both crafty and local and the food element was even better. Who doesn’t love pizza followed by portions of butter chicken or paella? OK so our visitv was cut short by Gigi becoming quite sick (poor mite) but this was a real highlight besides. Families, food and generally good feelings.

     

  3. Strand Hill.  If you want a good old retro Irish holiday you have to hit the beach and do all those things midlanders do when they spot the sea. Stare at it. Paddle and squeal at the Atlantic chill. Build castles. Build a moat. Write in the sand. Look for the icecream van. Strand Hill in Sligo is a lovely beach although we had to scoop away quite a few jellyfish. Watching your little ones actually see the sea is the highlight though and the reason we go. 

  4. Glencar Waterfall. Having been here on many occasions, I always get excited when I realise that we are near Glencar and could spin by. The drive there is scenic, green and you are cushioned by water on one side and the mass of green hill on the other. 20170717_165919Amenities there are top class from the coffee shop (Glencar Tea Shed) to the safe children’s playground. We enjoyed lovely big bowls of butternut squash and chorizo soup with brown bread (the girls were cranky but no one seemed put out). You can picnic under shaded trees either. The walk to the waterfall is pleasant and enjoyable with the refreshing spray of the water jets gently tickling your cheeks as you get closer. If you find yourself in Sligo or Leitrim, Glencar is a must see. 

  5. Gillighan’s World. This was a quirky little spot, bathed in whimsy and Irishry, that my husband spotted for our stop on the way home. As Ireland finds itself more and more infested (festooned? blessed maybe?)with fairies, here is another hideout from which to go spot them. This place has a definite aura of the mystical, situated on the side of Knocknashee Hill (Hill of the Fairies). I was immediately put in mind of the Irish ‘Sure and begorrah’ classic that is Darby O Gill and the Little People featuring Sean Connery in his most unintentionally comic role. There is a reason he was a Bond hero and not a Rodgers and Hammerstein lead, let us just say. I write about this in Movie Gems for St Patrick’s Day treats. This attraction is filled with lovely little walkways and picturesque pools of water with tiny falls and many, many little fairies along the way with the occasional meerkat. 

    The thought put into their lifestyle is cute as we see their garage, pub and hairdressers. My eldest liked the place but was not convinced by these fairies saying ‘they are only girls’.

     

    20170718_130401The walk culminates in a push to the top of the hill, a beautiful view and wish making in a fairy ring. The whole idea is sweet and there is a lot of love put into this project. If you go, take lots of time to get value for money. 20170718_122931There is a nice coffee shop area, rustic and part of the chilled out vibe the place emanates but you can bring picnics, as many did.

There we have it. Waterfalls, fairies and jellyfish studded shores, Sligo (and Leitrim) treated us well. We will come back.

Something did get easier. Just so you know, parents of babes!

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Meerkats and Fairies. A Perfect Match.

div align=”center”>This Mum's Life

The Pramshed

The Lovely Life

Last weekend, my husband and I had a date in Dublin.

My friend calls a few days away from parenting, where you get babysitters and take off without the kiddies, ‘day release’. I call it Guilty Fun. You want to do it, feel you shouldn’t and miss them like crazy. ‘Them’ being the babas you left behind…sob

I can see why you might liken days away from the minutiae of parenting  to parole. Parenting can feel like being in a type of prison at times, albeit a pretty one. Fondness for my Prison was a post I wrote in the early days of the two under two stage when life was hairy. This has passed and I definitely don’t feel it is as hard as it once was. Things do get easier (everyone said it would and this took time to prove). So getting a day out in Dublin with Mr Paper is a treat. A treat that comes with a price tag, financial and mental, but an important outing for the relationship making it worthwhile.

I won’t lie.  On Sunday I was shattered. We went Saturday morning, left the girls with their cousin and auntie and had our day out. They live near Dublin so we brought overnight luggage, travel cot and lots of snacks as if Leixlip doesn’t have fruit, yoghurt and Liga. We went back to their house Saturday evening and all spent Sunday together. Amidst the piles and piles of wipes, laundry and toys that a night away with kids amasses, we drove home Sunday evening. I unpacked. Laundered. Cooked. Slept. Tempers were flaring. Tantrums spread their tentacles and we were in a dangerous state of overtiredness. Sunday ended,  Monday began at seven am and by eleven am I wanted a big old nap.

So why do we do it? Why do we pack and prepare so much for a teeny bit of time together?

Here are the reasons.bitmoji-20170707040202

  1. Naughtiness.  I am not talking the baby making naughtiness here. I am talking the dessert at eleven am sort.

    In our case, Panna Cotta and Cappuccinos in a pretty Italian cafe. Served in a jam jars. My favourite! (Like to Love sent that joy of useless yet quaint piece of information to the world.) Pretty delicious.20170701_123845.jpg

  2. Lovely Lunch Date. So a date with the husband is important. We often go out to eat with our girls but these family outings aren’t very date-like as entertaining as they can be…! So time out, nice clean, pretty outfit, responsible for only our own toilet trips and clean faces, we looked across the table at each other and exchanged stories and photos about our Gigi and Betsy and wondered how they were. Whilst waiting for our food, we rang Mr Paper’s sister (babysitter) checked in on them, sipped (and in my case revelled) in the bubbly indulgence of a Prosecco based summer tipple at one in the day. Mr Paper had his favourite Soho pizza and I had an antipasti board for one. Tasting Italy, we drank in fond memories of past holidays. Sigh! So far so good.
  3. A Trip to the Theatre.bitmoji-20170707040418.png Drama is part of my Masters and I love, love a play. This was my Christmas present to Mr Paper (another fan of theatre) and we went to see the farcical comedy The Play That Goes Wrong at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre.play.jpg (Warning: The Lovely Life will be momentarily interrupted by a brief unlovely rant about naming beautiful areas for the arts after soulless corporations)
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    There is a hint of the tragedy implicated by the name in the street sign outside. Ironically,  if I get more bills from said company,  I cannot actually go the plays. Just stand outside on Misery Hill.

    Despite the fact that I think a theatre shouldn’t be named after a bill (grr), when The Rose or The globe for example have lovely theatrical connections, I enjoy this particular playhouse. (Another possible name…just saying). The Stage Door. The Break a Leg. The Actress and the Bishop. The Back Stage’s Front Stage. Just a few more offerings. I mean if they call their next building The Universal Social Charge, they can just feck off. So rant over. The actual play was great fun! We sat in the second row, all the more able to enjoy the irresistible physical comedy. Audience inclusion, stunts, quick dialogue and belly laugh inducing witticisms made our day complete. I may review it for another day…20170701_141411.jpg

  4. Sneaky, Cheeky Drinkies. Now, be under illusion. The husband and I are no good at the drinking these days. Friday night red wine is a thing of the past and we would choose Poldark and the couch over beer in the local any day. So drinkies are not our first port of call. There is a certain part of us deep inside that feels obliged to imbibe when the occasion occurs. You just have to be cautious. The trick is one here and there throughout the day. Four tops. Water, water, water. Go tasty. We went for overpriced, delicious and extravagant cocktails at The Westbury. Posh nibbly bits supplied. There was a wine in the theatre. A delicious champagne cocktail with lunch at Milanos. That ended the alcohol. Just enough and yummy. Coffee required, we could afford to treat ourselves further.

    4. Coffee and Cake. OK, OK,  I know you think we have done this already. That was hours ago in the real world people! So when the performance ended in a blitz of fallen props and hanging stagelights, after a walk from the theatre to Temple Bar, we trotted across to Grafton Street in search of something sweet and delectable. Here we found the sexiest doughnuts I have ever encountered in Boston Donuts. I have been to actual Boston yet these capped any I had there. I am dreaming of them since…marshmallow centered, chocolate-glazed magically fluffy pastry. Wowsers.

    I opted for a S’more. Mr Paper went old fashioned, original Boston Creme. Chocolately lipped, custard dripping down our chins, we beamed at each other. The sign of true love.

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    A Perfect Pair.

    5. Splurging in Shops on Grafton Street. Having eaten, sipped, nibbled and laughed, we now felt the need for retail therapy before heading back to Base camp. A little peek in Avoca, planning future spending! You know yourself, when I have the money, I will buy the world…

    Leaving Mr Paper in the gentleman’s section in BT, I bought myself a little bit of lippy.20170701_225731 Mr Paper reminded me that the Disney store was now in Grafton Street, and I bounded up the cobbled walkway to the world of joy (and temptation) ahead. After casually overspending on our little ladies, we went on home. Financial regret may occur on another day. Exhaustion Sunday or Dead to the World Monday maybe. In the interim, we walked hand in hand and remembered how we are as a couple. Coffee, a show, cake, cocktails- these are all the props. The whole point of this day away is to touch base with your other half. Add Prosecco and a Disney store if you must!

    So now you know. This is why we do it. The only way to really appreciate your home and family is the without them for a bit. This is very true. Home with the feet up, husband beside you and your little ones safe in bed. Until the urge to Have a Day Out returns once again, we experience another type of Lovely Life. We may not get to hold hands, have small talk to be together alone but look at what we do have- a busy life with the two most precious children.bitmoji-20170707040911.png

div align=”center”>The Pramsheddiv align=”center”>Mummuddlingthrough

A Magic Moment

Out of nowhere, like a February butterfly emerging from a rarely used closet, colourful against a sunless, magnolia bedroom wall, the magic moment that only a child can offer appears. Conjured by the power that is toddler magic, it will be when you least expect it. You had better be careful-it will take your breath away.butterfly-1525813_640

It might mean so little to a stranger. Even another mother, father or loving guardian may just give a quick smile at such a story, but to me, knowing my Gigi so well, I was overwhelmed by the golden colour of this moment.

Gigi had time in Crumlin hospital as a baby. We have been extremely lucky. Gigi is in the clear (another story for another day,  when I feel I can relive that horror ) and for that we are living in a blessing every day.

The hospital are doing research on her former condition and as she is two years on and developing at a perfectly ‘normal’ (anyone got a better way of saying this) rate, hitting all milestones as she goes along, the hospital has chosen to study her now- in order to help future sufferers. Of course. We feel we must participate. It can only help. Mr Paper ironically hates paperwork so I filled in the dense pile of questions on a break at work. As Gigi was just turning two, I found all the ‘excellent’ ticks would stop at a certain level in each section and realise it was to do with age. What it has afforded me is a clearer realisation of every milestone she is now hitting just as it happens. I mean walking, talking, toilet training etc are all quite obvious when they occur and are thrilling. These are less subtle emotional milestones that I may not have observed without a heads up , such as the ability to empathise or express feeling. I had read these thinking of my egocentric angel at that time and wondering if that would come in the next few years.

Aged two and five months and here we are.fairytale-958144_640.jpg

I don’t know if that is early, late or whatever by the medical standards.  I just know that it is amazing and wonderful.

It had begun before the Magic Moment. Small amounts. Thomas the Tank Engine crashed. Gigi said ‘Poor Thomas’. I gave her a new Alice in Wonderland  book. One illustration shows Alice in tears (making me question my choice of text as I remember AIW being very unsettling to read or watch a child). Gigi pointed out, ‘little girl cry Mammy’.  A more emotive and personally touching occasion was in the morning. We were in our holiday house, sitting on the couch watching a cartoon and eating apples. Twice Gigi put her hand on my arm and asked, ‘Are you OK Mammy?’. I know she was copying an action I (and her nannas) had performed toward her countless times, swap Mammy for Gigi, and how glorious it was. I was touched by the tenderness of the gesture.aladdin-1299675_640

We are leading to my Magic Moment. Will the massive build up damage the impact?!! For me, never.

This is why we choose to have babies. Why we elect to be professional nappy changers. Throw our right to a good night’s sleep to the wind. Allow our body (if we are the bearer of the pregnancy) to alter forever. Live with teething as a part of our world for years. It is for these little people to be in our lives. It is to see them progress. It is for the wow wee moments that knock us out. It is to see them be happy.

We had just been to Ardmore strand. A beautiful beach, pretty village and on a summery day, some place close to heaven.

We had lunched in the car. Not fancy,not even that comfortable. It was glorious. Cheat food. Cheat, not cheap- gourmet takeaway in fact. Pizza and chips (burger for Mr Paper) from the lovely Shipmates cafe in the village and took them out as our children were asleep. (They deserve the nod. Child friendly, good service and tasty food). Gigi awoke in time for her first pizza slice which she really enjoyed.’Pizza Mammy!’, she kept announcing smiling beatifcally all the while. Baby Betsy snored.

Onto the beach. Betsy’s first time to be by the seaside. As it turns out she is a sand monster. She eats the sand. Obviously I tried to stop her! Having none of it. I googled it quickly (anxious Mammy) as it was nigh on impossible to stop her and let her sit on a towel. That stuff gets everywhere! It is seemingly a regular occurence and as long as the beach is safe, she should be OK. I know. What?! Gigi got to build castles. Dip her toes in the sea. Scream when the ‘waves’ washed over her little knees. Walk with her Daddy through the rock pools. After an hour, we got out while the going was good, and settled back into the car. Sand sticking to the every surface, damp plastic bags filled with what felt like every stitch we owned requiring the wash, I turned around to my little girl. ‘Did you like the beach Gigi? ‘.

She smiled. ‘I happy Mammy. I happy.’

My heart melted. She had never said that before. Isn’t that all we want for them? To be happy? There it was. She meant it too. I hope I never forget that feeling. Hearing my little girl was happy.

Maybe it was the holiday.  The trip that made me feel so uncertain. The nerves leading up. Holidays with More than One Kid-a Whole New World. The ‘unperfect’ trip ( making words up now, imperfect just sounded too posh). It had done what a holiday should. It made us happy.

Gigi asked  for ‘ifecream ‘.ice-cream-1059784_640

So that’s just what we got.

 

 

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Holidays with More than One Kid-a Whole New World

We leave for ‘the holiday’ on Saturday. My husband is excited. My parents (they are coming) are excited.  Gigi is saying ‘holiday’ with a vague idea of what that is as, borne from the fact that Peppa (that pig) went on holiday on an airplane to Italy, losing her teddy over and over. So she is somewhat excited. I can’t say I am excited. I am not in dread though. I am not somewhere in between. Like many experiences since becoming a mother have become, it is bringing me to a new emotion. A new, unidentifiable emotion. I need science here. Please tell me. What am I feeling? Trepidation? Nervous excitement? Dare I say fear? Attenborough, are you interested? You could explore this safari of feeling in the hormone disco that is my brain and find very exotic species. We have been on holidays with Gigi twice since her birth-the Cotswolds and Sligo. It was different but really good. Now we have Betsy too. I have found having two much tougher at times and worry…how will holidays with two be? angst-807726_640

How the untitled emotion is manifesting itself…

 

I am packing. Mentally, physically and emotionally. Mental check lists race my brain daily. This year I am on the frugal packing diet and am enforcing a stricy very economical, ‘no new buys’ policy. Aside from a beach towel and a four euro pair of sandals for Gigi on the beach, I have done this very well. Those were essential buys for safety!334847476

At night I think. For hours. Too much.  I dream. I wake up tired from the activity of my dream packing and yet feel nothing is done properly.upset-534103_640.jpg

Where are we off to? Waterford. A county about three hours away from us. We have a house rented near a beach. Idyllic. Sounds glorious.

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We could get the ‘good’ weather…we could…

I can almost see the Irish reading this do the ‘wince’ face. You are hoping I don’t get my hopes up for sunshine and halcyon days. Calm babies and all perfection. Despite sign posts declaring the yellow brick road style way to the Sunny southeast, there is never a guarantee. Don’t worry. We know. We know all too well what may occur.rain-791893_640.jpg

We have done Irish holidays many times. They require packing for all seasons. No joke. Just practicality. I have brought wellies and flipflops, hats of all types, brollies and sun cream.

I know we will have fantastic quality time with our girls. I know we are making memories for us all. I know if anything annoying or irritating happens we will make it a funny story in the future.

Doesn’t stop the worry.

I worry about the nights. Will they settle? We might all be in one room. This sounds like a desperate idea. Where is the holiday in that?!

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Is my Aunt Minnie in here?

Will it be safe? I haven’t baby proofed. The website shows eight pictures of the property and only three interior shots. No amount of zoom can show me everything. What can I do? I am facing a lack of control…horror.

I worry about imagined situations of potential crisis. How wrong could they go? What shall we do?

I think about weather. We are in a rainy country. Great little country if it had a roof, as they say. Will the drenching let up and what can we do if not? Will we spend our holiday just browsing Lidl, Dunnes and Super Valu in another county…rain-1479303_640.jpg

Worst of all…if times become hard, Dickensian style…can we stick it out? Are we going to give in and come home… that would be the pits.

So there it is.

A boiling pot of feeling and yet I can’t put my finger on it.

Time will tell maybe.

See you after our ‘break’. I know we are blessed to have time away together. Luck has shone on us already and love is with us every day. I just am that type of Mammy. I see it all. Potentially good and bad. I hope it comes together for us. In the meantime, small goals.roller-905966_640.jpg

Quirky Tea Rooms and Quirkier Toddlers

I love going out to eat. I love choice and treats, indulging and talking. As a child, we ate out somewhere every now and again as a treat. The places and food never changed meaning I didn’t really cherish the occasions. I always ate chicken and chips. In fancier places (big event like a communion) I might have had some dessert but rarely. I still ate chicken and chips. Desserts were on a tray that was wheeled about and we (the kids) would go for a ‘look’ at it. Sherry trifle, Apple pie, Tiramisu, Profiteroles…guess the decade anyone? d3f1b28ff823822ac8f8f91f2cbf0c68My parents called anything outside of a hotel bar restaurant ‘swanky’. We rarely went ‘swanky’. All of our eating out places were cafés or pub lunches and they were all the SAME. A parsley sprinkled world.

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Shades of Orange.

It makes me wonder how my children will see eating out. In my opinion, we have lots of choice and go to so many interesting places. Children are children however; will they see it like I do? They will probably roll their eyes and say, ‘Remember when we went to those boring places back in the 2000 teens…’ and I, like my own parents now, will look on in bewilderment!

Ireland is a fabulous place to eat out in now. We have everything, everywhere. Therefore an occasion to eat out should mean a venue that is worth seeing. A recent influx of vintage fashion has seen tearooms shoot up everywhere with one competing to outdo the other in quirk and charm. I am not competitive by nature, but this kind of competition I like!tea-party-1001654_640.jpg

I holidayed in Yorkshire about ten years ago, before babies and marriage, and had ample tearoom meandering time. This type of eating experience was rife in the Dales. Themed tearooms at every turn. I recall several clearly, yet could not tell you what I ate. Welsh rarebits probably or sausage rolls. Cream tea. The themes were varied, yet thorough. A frog tearoom. Froggy paraphernalia at every turn. A monkey tearoom. A parrot one. My favourite of course was Alice in Wonderland themed. Marvellous.

The food is the same everywhere but I see lots more care take now with homemade preserves, abundance of ingredient options and baking wonders. Eating out is now a joy. My children (two and nine months) love going into restaurant but I rarely choose a tearoom. Toddlers and Tearooms seem like a bad mix. I will admit though (Mammy confession) that I love having time to enjoy a tearoom with my friends and not always with a bag of wipes, nappies and tupperware full of fruit and yoghurt. The chintzy environs of tearooms are usually cubby holes and corners too, not conducive to our bus loads of buggies and bags. Precarious toddler stomping ground.

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Mr Bull in a china shop. Peppa has a thought for every occasion.

I got an hour to meet a work colleague for coffee last week. So off we went to a lovely place that myself and Mr Paper never bring the girls to. I don’t because of stairs, delicate interiors and a general terror of potential mayhem in an atmosphere of vintage calm being created by my family. When I got there however, I felt guilty. Us Mothers. Guilt is a sidedish to all meals! A brave Mammy with two little boys were there. A family of six also came in. Children galore! Happy faces. Without trying to be rude, I watched how they did it. Mammy with boys was near the end of her rope. The boys were bouncy and loving the furniture. A sharp crash brought the Mammy to a startled jump and screech, making me realise how on edge she actually was. We smiled at each other. I reckon she thought I was lucky to be there without little people. I thought she was braver than me to go out with her two alone to this particlar place (think wall to ceiling china) and I know she didn’t enjoy that coffee and scone. Her boys had a ball however. I realise that she was happy with that. I felt inspired by this. The family of six were very peaceful. Calm parents (it seemed anyway) and the trick here seemed to be the older children played with and entertained the younger. I see!! I don’t think I should have more just for this reason though. ..

Back to my solo run to a tearoom. The Ballinhowen Tearooms in Co Westmeath’s Craft Village is not a million miles away for me and this little place ticks all the boxes for ladies who lunch.20160726_105812.jpg Charm? Tick. Home baking? Tick. Stockpiles of vintage delft and crockery? Tick. You must call it crockery and not cups if it looks like something your Granny had.20160726_105833.jpg

A few handmade touches? Absolutely.20160726_110807

Suitable decor? Tick.

A killer scone with cream and jam with a healthy mug of coffee in a suitably floral encasing later, I was ready to face baby world once again! (Killer as in fabulous but could mean heart attack inducing too…wonder if that is why they call it clotted cream..).Home_Baking_IE5.jpg

Toddlers and tearoom culture. Can we mix them? To a certain degree. As long as we don’t expect relaxation to be a certainty and accept that children are children and will act like children, then yes. Do we still enjoy a visit on our own? Of course! Most places accommodate children well now however. Changing units, highchairs, toys and special menus mean the tearoom want your child there and make you feel welcome, just as this one does in Ballinhowen. It is only my own trepidation that has stopped me bringing the smallies so far.

Will my children remember these experiences in a nostalgic manner?  Or will they laugh at the memories as dated, as there is a new trend? Eighties Ireland did not go for choice or customer service whereas modern Ireland must. Will the newfound friendliness be what remains in their memory? I hope so! Meanwhile, my girls, their Daddy and I will try enjoy quirkily themed tearooms. Occasionally we will have a little solo trip out too though…shhh! Secret!

Just one full cup whilst it is hot.bitmoji-20160801064009.png

 

 

National Theatre Tour and Afternoon Tea in London town

Who doesn’t love exploring somewhere like London? Random stalls and street food, history on every corner and in every crack in every wall.

Friday brought a magic stolen day in London with a friend from college days. This is a girl who can make me laugh, talk and brings me to a very happy place. We were getting a chance to have some real fun! I really couldn’t believe we actually had gone. A cheap flight was booked about six weeks ago with a vague possibility of going but times were tough in the Paper house (Why is Everyone Crying?) And I really thought I wouldn’t be leaving. I know some of you might be getting deja vu…didn’t she rabbit on about similar feelings like that before? ? Yes I did!  I didn’t think we would get away to Castle Leslie either but we did indeed. It is possible that all mothers for this. We all plan for cancellation and getting to go is just a bonus.

In this case, we went.

And really, everything on tour was coming up golden.ScreenShot2012-05-04at113336AM.jpg Connections seemed to wait at terminals just for us. Tubes glided in at our whim. The sun shone. Music and gigs played in parks. People smiled. We were really there.

Our friend was working until four, so we had a full day to fill. Both of us having lived near London in the past, we have already seen the Tower, Big Ben, Covent Garden and all the galleries so we had a massive opportunity for new explorations. London is a time eater so you cannot over plan. We chose afternoon tea. Much research into many teas at hotels, shopping centres and favourite places brought me to the tea and tour at the National Theatre. Great value at 35 pounds, you receive a fantastic tour (thanks to Sarah our professional, highly informative and passionate guide) and then a lovely tea i20160715_143427n the House restaurant overlooking the Thames. I cannot fault this experience. If you love theatre, then it is a must. Who doesn’t love tea and little delicacies? Win win!

We got to spy on rehearsals for The Plough and the Stars, being produced due to the centenary of the Easter 1916 Rising. (I assume!). The theatre is quite unusual at first sight. Not my cup of tea (no pun intended) but I was convinced as to why it was built like that by the end of the tour. Not meant to be attractive in the way Victoria theatre etc is, you are meant to be free of all aesthetic distraction in order to focus on the art on stage completely. The interiors remind me of the Canal Bank or the O2 theatres in Dublin. Modern and purpose built, it isn’t conventionally pretty.

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Classic interior of an English theatre. This is Wells in Norfolk.
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A whole new style of exterior.

I wasn’t allowed photograph inside but you can imagine the grey insides of a multi story car park with theatres free from chandeliers, ornate excess or box seats. Royalty mingle with the common folk here. We were shown much of the interiors and backstage including the impressive factory workshop, churning out purpose built props and backdrops. The National theatre is composed of three actual theatres, the Olivier, the Dorfman and the Lytteldon. We did not see the Olivier as productions for Young Chekov season were bring rehearsed. Passing large trolleys, a quick peep would show you the labeled and itemised props for The Seagull or an equally classic play.We were shown secrets behind the illusion, warned not to lean against walls as everything was not as it seems and joyed at the sight of a horse prop from War Horse  dangling overhead.

The Dorfman (named after a very generous donor) is intimate and modern and we were lucky to see the most amazing set in full glory for Sunset at the Villa Thalia. Realistic to a fault, what looks like a concrete front yard is in fact a styrofoam base. This theatre has ‘clever’ chairs that sense body temperatures and can also ‘tell’ you when they malfunction. Lights worth thousands are everywhere. We are told there is no wiggle room for props here to be vaguely real as you are so close to the stage from all sides. You need to perfect the props to a fault. They have recently experimented with innovative sensory theatre too, soaking rugs in beer to give the sense of a typical British bar or even roasting a leg of lamb onstage, leaving a salivating audience living and breathing the atmosphere.

You can see I loved the tour…

Even better, when it was over we went upstairs and were handed Bellinis.(champagne with peach puree). Luxury. The actual tea (the drink) menu was extensive but I wanted tradional breakfast tea. My friend had a flavoured tea. The meal itself was themed (yes a theatrical theme!) quirkily naming courses and making ordinary ingredients more exciting.

So much fun. Such a treat! Especially ‘A Taste of Honey’ cake and a really unusual but delicious pie named after Sweeney Todd. Don’t panic- it is just pork.

A little ‘interval icecream’ with an edible purple flower rounded off the experience perfectly. Cross the bridge and you can have a tipple in Gordon’s Wine Bar, following in the footsteps of Rudyard Kipling.20160715_170346-1.jpg20160715_153437

Time then to hop on the train and head out to Finchley…

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Harry Potter style!

I recommend this tour to any theatre lover. You will not be disappointed and tea just makes it extra sparkly! Don’t forget the theatre is on Southbank (get tube to Embankment and walk over either bridge, and enjoyable experience in itself) then you can wander the Southbank until the tour starts.

So much to see and experience in this part of London. Watch out for the urban beaches appearing everywhere too. My friend was particularly loving the deckchairs that seemed to appear just when needed all over the city. Who could fault such loveliness?

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A lovely day.

So this Mammy had a wonderful time in Southbank and had another two lovely days to come.

Missed the babies and their Daddy though..!